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Tebbutt: Catching up with Rebecca

Apr 24, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Rebecca Marino has made Montreal her training base since she began her comeback earlier this year. On Sunday she was at Stade IGA supporting the Canadian Fed Cup team in its World Group II Playoff against Ukraine. Team captain Sylvain Bruneau insisted she wear the team uniform and she was with other players and staff when Bianca Andreescu and Gabriela Dabrowski wrapped up the exciting, tie-clinching doubles victory.

In the picture here, she was asked by a woman, shortly after Sunday’s final match, to pose with two young children.

Tebbutt Tuesday spoke with the 27-year-old Marino at the end of the Canada – Ukraine Fed Cup Group II match-up at Stade IGA. On Monday, after being out of the sport for five years and having played only seven low-level tournaments since late January, her WTA ranking broke into the top-500 at No. 440.

Here’s our Q&A with the former World No. 38 (2011).

Q: When you played your first competitive match in January in Antalya, Turkey, what would have been your strangest feeling?

RM: I was actually surprised that I was super nervous for every single match and I guess I hadn’t felt that way in a while. It was strange but I did get rid of that after the last couple of matches.

Q: How important was it to win your first match (6-0, 6-1 over unranked, 17-year-old Emilia Dejonckheere of Belgium in qualifying) and actually feel that you could play at a professional level again – even if it’s against lower-ranking players?

RM: It was important for me because I didn’t want to go out and fall flat on my face, so to speak. Honestly it was when I got my first (WTA) points a couple of matches in – like three or four – that I took a deep breath and relaxed. It was like “okay, I’ve done my job.”

Q: What did you take from winning those first three $15K ITF tournaments in Turkey (17 matches in a row), were you surprised to win them all?

RM: I was really surprised. I didn’t expect to win three tournaments in a row. Honestly, I was just looking to get my ranking started – looking for the minimum of 10 points or three tournaments. Anything more than that and I was happy and surprised.

Q: What about your game itself – one suspects the serve was always there but were there other things that you were worried about?

RM: I was worried that my serve wouldn’t be there, but it’s still there. I was worried my forehand wouldn’t quite feel the same – like that I would lose the touch and also that I wouldn’t be able to move very well on the court. All those fears were kind of put aside after the first week – so that was kind of nice.

Q: Did you feel at all funny kind of being a bit of the old woman (at 27) out there with most of the players – although there are some players your age and older?

RM: For me the strangest part was being a little older and having to start the whole ranking process again. That’s what I did when I was 15 or 16. I had to refresh my memory on how to do that. Luckily there are still players close to my age if not in their thirties. So I can at least feel that I’m not alone in that.

Q: What was the difference between Turkey and the next set of three $25K ITF events in Japan in March – obviously there was a higher calibre of players in the second group?

RM: There were a lot more players that were higher ranked – in both of them there were players ranked in the top 100, or close to the top 100. Definitely I got better quality matches and I got to play a few of those girls too. It was a good test to see where my level was at and I was pleasantly surprised.

Q: You lost to No. 101 Luksika Kumkhum (of Thailand) 7-5, 2-6, 7-5 in the quarter-finals of the first event in Kofu. What do you think when you lose to a good player like that – was it frustrating or were you just happy you could play with her?

RM: I was happy I could play with her but I was also frustrated because I was up a break in the third and not able to sort of quash my nerves. It was a quick way to learn how to stay calm under pressure.

Q: You lost in the qualifying the second week in Kashiwa – 7-6(5), 7-6(10) to No. 334 Zhang Liang, 28, of Hong Kong. What was that match all about?

RM: I lost that match 7-6, 7-6 and I had set points in both sets. I wasn’t playing that well and it was extremely windy. I couldn’t capitalize on some of the opportunities I had. It was a way to sort of bounce back and go in the next week and re-set…and that worked.

Q: In the final of your third event in Osaka, you were beaten 6-3, 7-6(2) by No. 226-ranked Destanee Aiava of Australia, 17. She played against Simona Halep in the first round of this year’s Australian Open and demonstrated some remarkably explosive hitting. Were you getting to your wits end at that point in your trip?

RM: By that match I was already getting to be a little tired and I’d been dealing with just a really minor injury – and I kind of wanted to get back and get that treated because I’ve been dealing with it for a few months. That was irritating me but to be honest she’s an exceptional player and everything was clicking for her. We’re going to see a lot more of her in the future, that’s for sure. She’s really good.

Q: What was it like having (17-year-old) Bianca Andreescu with you for the first two weeks in Japan – somebody who’s a whole decade younger than you?

RM: It was actually really nice – Bianca and I get along really well and I was with her for the Tevlin (Challenger in Toronto last October) and in Saguenay (the National Bank Challenger also in October) even though I wasn’t playing. Getting to know her is awesome. Seeing someone I know a little more around these tournaments and getting to travel with her is nice. It makes it a little more fun.

Photo credit: Pascal Ratthé/Tennis Canada

Q: What are your plans now for the next couple of months?

RM: The next few months my goal is to stay in North America and play some $25Ks in Florida and through the U.S., and then the summer series here in Canada.

Q: No thought of asking for a wild card into the Wimbledon qualifying, or something like that?

RM: (Laughs) I don’t think I’m well-known enough to get into those Grand Slams or even big events. It’s probably better to ask for ones in Canada.

Q: How sort of obsessed are you with calculating the rankings – or do you just let things ride and see how they work out?

RM: I let things ride, I can’t focus too much on it or compare too much because I’m only starting. For me I think I’m just happy – on Monday (yesterday) I’m going to crack the top-500 or something. It’s a start. I have a full year ahead of me. I can’t get too excited.

Q: Is there anyone you’ve heard from offering encouragement, as you’ve come back to tennis, that sort of surprised you – someone you played with a long time ago or coaches or people like that?

RM: I’ve received a lot of kind words from a lot of people. It was really nice to hear from Vasek (Pospisil) – he sent me a really kind note. And of course I keep in contact with all the female players from Canada. They’re all really supportive. So it’s nice that people are reaching out and being friendly and welcoming me back.

Q: Does it surprise you to know that there a lot of people out there rooting for you?

RM: That makes me happy – I try not to pay attention to sort of who’s watching and who’s listening. Any support I get makes me really happy because I feel like a bit of an underdog now and I hope I can make everyone proud.

FED CUP SUCCESS IN MONTREAL

Genie Bouchard, Bianca Andreescu and Gabriela Dabrowski all contributed to Canada’s 3-2 Fed Cup victory over Ukraine in Montreal last weekend – a win that maintains its spot in World Group II for 2019.

Bouchard won both her singles – over Kateryna Bondarenko on Saturday and then a mammoth, hard-fought 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(5) victory over Lesia Tsurenko in two hours and 39 minutes on Sunday.

Bouchard had lost the first set and led the second 2-0 before Tsurenko tied it at 2-all. At that point she definitely looked a little weary (picture here).

Later she would say, “in the middle of the second set I said to myself that I was tired and then an hour later I was saying that it had been a whole hour that I was feeling tired. It was so long. I don’t really know what happened.”

What happened is that she hung in there, kept battling and was rewarded with a big win.

It’s impossible to know how it will affect her going forward, but the tenacity and commitment she demonstrated in getting the victory can only be a positive sign.

As for Andreescu, she led the No. 41-ranked Tsurenko 6-4, 3-1 in the opening match on Saturday and was clearly the dominant player on court. Her unbridled aggression off the ground was overwhelming the 28-year-old Ukrainian and she seemed destined for victory. Unfortunately she got cramps in her legs – possibly related to her being a last-minute substitute for the injured Francoise Abanda or to an overly tough workout the previous day because she thought she wasn’t going to be playing Saturday.

At 17, Andreescu already has the firepower to threaten anyone – and her current No. 201 ranking should soon be headed well north if she remains healthy.

In Sunday’s doubles win over Bondarenko and Olga Savchuk, she was helped by Dabrowski, No. 10 in the WTA doubles rankings and the winner of the mixed doubles titles at both the French and Australian Opens over the past 10 months.

Dabrowski, 25, has the serve and all-round skill-set to be a dominant doubles player and is destined to give the Canadian team the assurance that it can do well with her anchoring several options if Fed Cup contests come down to the fifth-and-deciding doubles in the future.

Sylvain Bruneau, the Canadian captain, deserves kudos for steering his ship though some very rough and unusual waters over the weekend.

When it was all over, he was relieved and thrilled with the outcome. He was able to step back and make some heartfelt observations about all that had transpired on Saturday and Sunday.

“I honestly couldn’t be prouder of the team,” he said, “the way the girls fought. They left it all on the court in each of the matches – and I have to say that Ukraine did as well.”

KATERYNA AND KARINA

Photo credit: Pascal Ratthé/Tennis Canada

Some tennis players take better, more striking pictures than others. The 31-year-old Kateryna Bondarenko, who played for Ukraine this past weekend in Montreal in Fed Cup, would appear to be one of them.

While she was playing her singles match on Saturday, Bondarenko’s daughter was seated courtside in the care of the Ukrainian team doctor. Karina, who will turn five next month, didn’t seem to have too much interest in her mom’s match but was well-behaved nonetheless.

MONTREAL POST CARD

This mural is on a building in tiny rue Sainte-Elisabeth just off rue Ste-Catherine near the Université du Québec à Montréal. Right next door is the cozy, off-the-beaten track Ste-Elisabeth Pub, an English-styled establishment in the middle of one of the most French parts of the city.